"Why Translation Matters" by Edith Grossman

"National literature" is a narrowing, confining concept based on the distinction between native and foreign, which is certainly a valid and useful differentiation in some areas and under certain circumstances, but in writing it is obviated by translation, which dedicates itself to denying and negating the impact of divine punishment for the construction of the Tower of Babel, or at least to overcoming its most divisive effects. Translation asserts the possibility of a coherent, unified experience of literature in the world's multiplicity of languages. (17)
So, yeah. Translation as diplomacy; translation as an inherent, inescapable truth of linguistic existence; translation, in the most meta way possible, as the key to redemption and salvation. 

This little book, when you come right down to it, is a blatant and well-presented challenge to literary critics: there is a shameful and ultimately harmful deficiency in the vocabulary available to discuss and engage with the myriad relationships connecting translations and translators with the work and author they've brought over into another language, including the various contexts and implied readerships full of "idiosyncratic, eccentric, and thoroughly unpredictable" readers. Grossman frames the challenge thusly:
Even if it is unrealistic to wish that every reviewer of a translated work were at least bilingual, it is not unreasonable to require a substantive and intelligent acknowledgment of the reality of the translation. [...] I do regret very sincerely that so few of them have devised an intelligent way to review both the original and its translation within the space limitations imposed by the publication. It seems to me that their inability to do so is a product of intransigent dilettantism and tenacious amateurism, the menacing two-headed monster that runs rampant through the inhospitable landscape peopled by those who write reviews. (32)
And with slightly less venom:
It has been suggested to me... that translation may well be an entirely separate genre, independent of poetry, fiction, or drama, and that the next great push in literary studies should probably be to conceptualize and formulate the missing critical vocabulary. (47)
She provides a Mr. James Wood as the lone example of "an uninformed reviewer who consistently pays serious attention to the real value of translation" - I will do some dutiful legwork and see if I can scrounge up some examples in the near future.

In the second chapter, Grossman delves into her recent, if nevertheless miasmic experience translating Don Quixote, allowing her example to highlight the incredible tension and balance necessary to produce a "faithful" translation. Succinct recap: "words do not mean in isolation" (71).

The last chapter is a similar treatment of a representative sample of her translated poetry, which I'll admit to skimming. I can't read Spanish, so comparing the texts would have been less than enlightening, and I'm well aware of the importance of rhythm, rhyme, and meter. But in any case, duly noted, and if I find myself contemplating a move from prose to poetry, I'll certainly revisit those last few pages.

And that does it for today, I guess. Time to shake the cramp out of my legs and go poke the kitty.

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